Emailing Professors

How confident are you that you know how to write an impeccable email to a professor?

If you aren’t confident, or maybe even if you are, please read this excellent article on how to email your professor. Please.

The author (Laura Portwood-Stacer) breaks it down for us into ten easy steps. I’m often skeptical of articles with lists of “ten easy steps” to improve your performance in something. But this one really delivers.

I’m not going to review the ten steps, because you should really read the article. I’m just going to highlight the things she said that I strongly agreed with but I don’t see expressed frequently other places.

  • Professor Portwood-Stacer writes, “there [is] a simple explanation for why [students don’t] know how to write [emails to professors] — they’ve never actually been taught how.” Writing professional emails isn’t something that people are born knowing.
  • She claims that points 7 and 8 are a way to “prove you’re a wonderful person.” Agreed! In 7 and 8, you (the student) explain what you have attempted so far to resolve your question and what is still unclear in spite of these efforts.
  • I also really like hidden point 11, the follow-up. I call that polite persistence.
  • Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with her explanation of why these details are so important to get right. After college, our students may not be emailing professors, but they will find great value in being able to communicate concisely and respectfully.

And here is my commentary on some of her ten points if you are emailing me.

  • Points 2 and 3 (regarding the form of greeting). Please feel free to call me Laura.
  • Point 4 (nicety). I get it, but you can omit that for me.
  • Point 5 (reminder of who you are). If you currently enrolled in my class, please just tell me the days and time of your section. If you were my former student, please remind me which year (at least approximately) you took my class.
  • Points 6 through 9. Please read these over and over. They are excellent.
  • Point 10. Closing. In a closing, only capitalize the first letter. Kind regards, not Kind Regards. Getting that right really makes a good impression on people who know the rule.

I loved her article so much. It really struck the right tone: clear, helpful, caring, not condescending. Plus, the sassy title. (I feel young and hip in catching the AF reference in the title. You?) Who is this mysterious Laura P-S? Is she a like-minded soul? Maybe…but maybe not. We appear to have similar attitudes about teaching. But I am a marketing professor who studies innovation, and she had studied the “cultural practices of contemporary US anarchists.” Whoa! I teach digital marketing and she is currently working on a study of “‘conspicuous non-consumption,’ among people who choose not to participate in new social media platforms such as Facebook.” Still, she seems like someone I would enjoy hanging out with.

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